In announcing, on February 23, new American sanctions against North Korea, Donald Trump showered the hopes of those who hoped for a relaxation of this crisis during the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. It is true that North Korea had, a few days ago, cancelled at the last minute meeting that was to take place on the sidelines of the Games with Vice President Mike Pence.
The US strategy towards North Korea is to be “maximum pressure and commitment”. But for the moment, it’s mostly the first part of the proposal that has come forward. Trump said he hopes that the proliferation of sanctions will eventually bring Pyongyang to resipiscence. Against the background of the threat of military action in the last resort, which is agitated in Washington. Not the invasion of the country, of course, but a large-scale strike aimed at destroying the country’s nuclear and ballistic arsenal.
No military expert seriously believes that this idea is realistic. This is probably a bluff. But this bluff is dangerous: if Kim Jong-un is convinced that America is on the eve of an attack, how will he react? The North Korean crisis will, in any case, continue. Especially since after a pause of a few months, ballistic missile tests, and perhaps nuclear weapons, will certainly resume during the course of the year.
As if Mr. Trump was not satisfied with a nuclear crisis that he inherited when he came to power, he decided to open a second one. This time, it is about Iran. We know that an agreement to frame the Iranian nuclear program was signed with Tehran in July 2015. But every four months, the President of the United States must guarantee to Congress that Iran applies this agreement well, otherwise US sanctions can be reinstated.
However, Mr Trump, who had repeatedly warned that he thought the deal was bad, has now decided that it was “the last time” that he accepted the suspension of sanctions. He urged the Europeans to help the United States find ways to supplement the agreement with firmer, or longer terms. At the risk of reinforcing those in Tehran who believe that Iran has been deceived by the agreement of 2015. And also to create a transatlantic crisis. The question is likely to fester in the spring, when the ultimatum of Mr. Trump will expire.
These two crises are not unrelated. North Korea and Iran have a long history of cooperation in the field of ballistic missiles – and perhaps in nuclear weapons too. In addition, Pyongyang and Tehran are consulting on the best way to deal with the United States. These two countries are American obsessions for several decades. They also justify anti-missile defense programs whose cost-effectiveness is arguably questionable, but which Mr Trump intends to reinforce.
There is no mistaking an opponent:
North Korea and Iran are disturbing the international order more seriously and for a longer time than Mr. Trump does, and their actions are contrary to European interests. But by choosing to reopen the Iranian file, the American president is once again putting oil on the fire. The world did not need it.